Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Your Leap Day City Council Meeting Report

In case you are not aware, or simply forgot because your life is filled with vast quantities of similarly important minutia, today is Leap Day. Which only happens once every four years. It is the extra day they tack on at the end of the shortest month of all, which then becomes February 29. Here is how Wikipedia limns it for us:

February 29, known as leap day in the Gregorian calendar, is a date that occurs in most years that are evenly divisible by 4, such as 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 ... Although most years of the modern calendar have 365 days, a complete revolution around the sun takes approximately 365 days and 6 hours. Every four years, during which an extra 24 hours have accumulated, one extra day is added to keep the count coordinated with the sun's apparent position.

Leap days only occur in years where there is a Presidential election, and the Olympics happen on years with leap days as well. You just get a little bonus time during the special years. Enjoy your extra day.

So much for the interesting news. Let's now talk about last night's City Council meeting.

The unlikely hero of Measure V has become Billy Shields. The developer of the Assisted Living Facility now to be known as The Kensington, Billy rose to his feet during Public Comment last night and implored that somebody agendize his request to put this project on the ballot this coming November in accordance with the Voter's Empowerment Ordinance as quickly as possible. Something that MaryAnn MacGillivray later did.

There could also be some insight revealed here as well in regards to the popularity of the Kensington project. Fountain Square Development West, the developer Billy Shields has partnered with, is widely regarded to be the patron of the Competitive Edge Research Poll that was conducted in Sierra Madre recently (click here). I can only assume that by continuing to insist that the City of Sierra Madre go forward with this vote the news from the survey must have been good for Fountain West.

The big question now is whether the City Council will follow the law and put the Kensington question on the November ballot, or try to convince the City that they are somehow above it all. If that turns out to be the case Sierra Madre will then be in direct conflict with the Constitution of the State of California. No small matter I should think.

The endless debate over incontinent dogs versus Little League baseball fields continued, and apparently will now grind on for at least one more City Council meeting. An issue that, while not in conflict with the California State Constitution, is material that Josh and Nancy are obviously comfortable with. Which is maybe why this one just keeps going on. Perhaps it is scoring great ratings points for SMTV3, or something. God help us.

Fees for using Dog Parks was also discussed. Something that, if passed, will encourage dog owners to walk their beloved pets on the baseball fields.

This was followed by an obviously preplanned strategy to place John Buchanan on the Oversight Board overseeing the dissolution of the Sierra Madre Redevelopment Agency. Also known as the "Successor Agency," this claque of cash allocators will decide what Sierra Madre will get to keep in order to pay for projects either already underway or even finished, and what funds will go to help fund education. The Oversight Board is weighted to favor using this money for education, with several of its members actually in the public school business. Something that was apparently done by design. It does appear that the deck is stacked against us.

Which is the reason why Josh Moran and Nancy Walsh claimed we need to throw Fighting John into the fray. The soon to be former Mayor, in a moment of unconvincing modesty, did attempt to give the impression that he was uncomfortable with nominating himself, and he insisted he would only accept the position if all of his colleagues agreed that he is the man. But when MaryAnn MacGillivray did not voice any such support for what was going down (she had wanted to put forward another candidate), John took the job anyway.

The City of Sierra Madre was revealed last night to have now "uncommitted" several previously committed CRA projects. This was done in the hope that it will provide enough cash to satisfy the Oversight Board, and that they will then decline go after things City Hall would prefer to keep. Or, even more to the point, have already finished and paid for with CRA money. The now uncommitted and therefore dead in the water projects are:

City Hall/Public Safety Roofs ........................... $250,000
Citywide Street Resurfacing ............................. $1,030,282 (various funds)
Re-pave City-Owned parking lots .................... $595,000
Facade Improvement Program ........................ $30,000
Low Mod Housing (Highland) ......................... $450,000

One of the great hopes of those who wished to see the CRA go away was that it would put an end to redevelopment. And in Sierra Madre there was no less popular redevelopment project than the low mod housing that was being pushed for with CRA money on Highland. To the certain relief of the residents of that neighborhood it would now appear that this project is DOA. Score one for the good guys.

There are three projects that will remain on the books. They are the ADA Entry Project ($50,000), Santa Anita Fire costs ($200,000), and the inexplicable and absurd Market Demand Survey ($30,000 - click here) that the G3 pushed so hard for this last year. It might actually be interesting to hear John Buchanan explain to the Oversight Board why a $30K consultant study of the product consumption habits of Sierra Madre area residents should take precedence over the desperate needs of public school kids. I'm sure he'll cook up something.

More alarming is the very real possibility that the Oversight Board will want CRA money that has been spent on projects already completed. These could include:

Senior Center/Park House ....................................... $565,000
Sierra Madre Boulevard Main Replacement .......... $750,000
UUT Public Safety Carryover ................................ $400,000
Housing Element and General Plan ...................... $300,000

There are others as well, and the take for the Oversight Board would be a healthy one should they take that route. Too bad the City Manager did not allow the General Plan Update Committee to forgo the hiring of consultants as was their wish, thus potentially saving us the $300,000 we are now in jeopardy of having to pay for out of General Fund reserves.

Other things happened at this meeting, but RBS (Restless Brain Syndrome, a condition first diagnosed here by regular commenters Ma and Pa), demands that I now move on to other topics.

Today's PSN article on the State of the City/UUT Controversy

As we discussed yesterday, the Mayor's State of the City address turned out to be little more than a pep rally for voting 'yes' on Measures 12-1 and 12-2. Which I suppose means that the "state of the city" is now color coded green for malarkey.

The article being referred to today, "Sierra Madre Mayor Buchanan advocates tax measure in state of city speech" (click here), is a fairly evenhanded piece on the attempts of the City to raise our UUT rate to 12%, which would then be the highest in the State of California. But what makes this article invaluable is that it now shows two more City Council candidates as being officially on the public record with their take on how people should vote on this issue. Those candidates being Chris Koerber and Professor Gene "Goose" Goss. First Koerber:

Chris Koerber, who is running to fill the remaining two years of the vacant council seat, said the measure is actually a tax increase because without it the UUT would decrease to 6 percent by 2016.

"The fact is that they're trying to create an artificial sense of urgency on April 10," Koerber said. "We should learn to live within the budget at 10 percent."

Eugene Goss, who revealed himself at his campaign kickoff event last weekend to be another garden variety tax and spend devotee ala Buchanan or Moran, attempted to challenge the widely held notion in town that Buchanan is employing scare tactics to stampede the voters into voting themselves a tax increase. Thus spake the Goose:

Gene Goss, another council candidate, said he didn't think Buchanan used any scare tactics.

"Mayor Buchanan hit the right tone," Goss said. "He did a very accurate job of describing the state of the city and challenge we're going to face on the future."

Nice of Gene to help push forward the "scare tactics" meme for us.

What this means is that all of the viable candidates for City Council are now down on record regarding where they stand on Measures 12-1 and 12-2, the "soak the taxpayers" UUT questions on April's ballot. That is, with the exception of two. Those being Colin Broadrick and John Harabedian. The two UUT "decline to state" candidates, both of whom are running "all things to all people" metro-style campaigns, have yet to let us in on their thoughts regarding this rather important matter.

The article also shows John Buchanan in the throes of yet another debilitating episode of GKB (Government Knows Best) syndrome.

Buchanan, however, said unless an extension is passed now, the City Council would have to assume it won't have those funds when it prepares the next budget.

"Survival is a very low definition of a city that takes pride in having its own independence," he said.

Of course, most people would regard independence as being able to spend their hard earned money on the things that they want to use it for. Not turn it over to the likes of Mayor Buchanan, someone who will then squander it on such poor choices as a $30,000 "Market Demand" consultant study.

VFW City Council Candidate Forum is March 11

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3208 will be holding its Candidates Forum on Sunday, March 11, 1:30 to 3:30 PM. It will take place at the Memorial Park Hart House.

At last! A candidate debate that the working men and women of Sierra Madre can actually attend. All are invited.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mr. Finewine Gives the City Council Meeting Preview Report

(Mod: Our previous selection for the CC Preview Report, the late Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, subjected us to some criticism a couple of weeks back. How we could have chosen so notorious a figure from history appalled those who are prone to that sort of reaction. Which means that our original choice for this week's preview, Ming the Merciless, is probably no longer appropriate. So in Ming's place we've decided to get hyperlocal and have Sierra Madre bon vivant Mr. Finewine do the honors. There is also the added benefit that Mr. Finewine attended the Mayor's State of the City get-together last night, whereas Ming the Merciless was otherwise occupied. Ming's loss is Mr. Finewine's gain. Mr. Finewine? The floor is yours.)

Good day to you all, my friends. Yes, I am Mr. Finewine and indeed it is an honor to be giving today's City Council meeting preview report. I have often appeared in the comments section of The Tattler with what I've thought is pertinent and trenchant commentary, and therefore I am hardly new to these pages. Here is my report.

I found the Mayor's State of the City address to be impressive in an inverse sort of way. Nothing seems to move our Mayor to flights of passion quite so much as asking the taxpayers to dig deeper into their pockets and give more of their money to the City. Last night was no exception. And while the room wasn't quite as filled as when the more charismatic Joe Mosca gave his SOTC address (nor were the attendees anywheres near as enthusiastic), there were about 80 residents in the house, sans the school choir and parents. Which was still more than City Staff in attendance. So those concerned did get past their psychological break even point.

The key to Mayor Buchanan's enraptured address was the necessity for raising UUT rates so that public safety services can survive. Or such was his claim. What it all comes down to is this. If we don't dig a little more deeply and give more to the City, people are going to suffer terribly. Without the full services of the City, without a fully staffed Police Department standing guard, without the ambulance at the ready to take us to the care we need, we are living on the razor's edge, and lives will be lost. And for this you must pay more. Give 'til it hurts, or be hurt. Dig deeper or dark and terrible things will occur. Vote 'yes' on the UUT measures or the world as we have always known it will come to a bitter end.

The Mayor apparently wasn't just talking about a 2% rise in the Utility Users Tax, he was also depicting The Apocalypse. The end of time. It was no coincidence that the skies darkened and the rain poured. The Mayor also stated twice that Measure U provides for public safety alone, which, in a more spiritual realm, could have gotten him struck by lightning. Or made his nose grow.

Did all that go over well with those in attendance? It certainly wasn't received with any excessive joy, and even the self-designated applause leaders had to work hard to get folks to look up from their Mother Moo ice cream and clap. And then there was the matter of The Mayor's grammatical syntax, which at times led him to places entirely free of poetry. "What good is a road that takes you nowhere where we want to be?" he strangled the crowd with at one point. Was he talking about the future of the City of Sierra Madre, or his 8 year legacy of developmental futility? It was hard to tell. This is not a man celebrated for either his sensitivity or clarity in phraseology.

But enough of that. There is a City Council meeting this evening, and judging by the Agenda and Agenda Reports, it shouldn't be a very long one. Though I suspect someone will be reading a city audit to us at the end, which should affect those watching at home a little like a lullaby would, sending all safely off to dreamland.

The opening rituals will be performed in the usual manner. The Pledge of Allegiance and the Invocation/Inspiration will come from Mayor John Buchanan, who will perhaps inform us that a 'yes' vote on the UUT Measures is the wish of God. Which wouldn't be too far from his Billy Sunday-esque histrionics during that State of the City address. This will then be followed by the Mayor and City Council Reports, where some of the elect will reveal their social, eating and drinking habits. Avert your eyes at such shame. Public Comment being next.

In my estimation it is the Consent Calendar where the big dogs are sleeping. Two of them in particular need to be woken up and set to barking.

Before that vast sums of money will be spent to sustain the City Government. Sustaining the City Government the seeming priority of that government. Which I guess makes it a self-perpetuating exercise. $778,630 will vanish into various places in order to meet our obligations to payroll, warrants, the library, the PFA, and our evanescent CRA. Which even though it is officially dead will still be hitting our books for many years to come.

The first sleeping dog on the Consent Calendar needing a poke with a long stick is Letter E, which will reveal to all that the One Carter (aka the Stonegate Development) debacle is now beginning to revert back to nature. Erosion, the result of a lack of proper upkeep, is starting to take its toll on all that work Cap Source did up there in a vain hope of making the place commercially viable. Only 9 of those properties have actually sold, and apparently these were investment purchases since no building plans have been submitted yet for these "pads," as they are actually called. Has a beatnik flair to it.

All of which means the City feels it is now required to point out that decay has begun to set in at Stonegate, it is getting into a money spending phase, and whoever is responsible for all that had better do something soon. Personally, I think the entire debacle should be allowed to return to nature. It is now going on 8 years since a rather lousy City Council allowed developers to tear what was then a beautiful natural setting to pieces (a Council that included our current so-called "Green" Mayor), and in that time not one single home has ever been built. There must be some sort of statute of limitations. Perhaps it is time to let the mountains reclaim their own. Obviously they're now trying to do just that.

The other dog is Item E, which is a vastly confusing item that discusses millions of dollars in CRA spends. Myself and other concerned residents pored over the Staff Report for this one and nobody can make heads nor tails of it. We're talking about things like $450,000 for Low Mod Housing on Highland, $250,000 for a new roof for City Hall and surrounding structures, $500,000 to repave City/CRA owned parking lots, $565,000 for the Senior Center and Park House. And, of course, the $30,000 Market Study, which is designed to track your personal consumption habits for the fiduciary benefit of local merchants. Something that in the Staff Report shows up on two conflicting grids. No small change here, and all very puzzling. Is this all previously "encumbered" (to use a Josh-ism) cash that is to be covered by the now dead CRA, or is it all something that will have to be picked up elsewhere?

In depth conversation on this item may be possible. Inquiring minds need to know.

After that things go rapidly down hill. The scheduled City Council soiree for April 4th will have to be canceled because of the election. Which means that John Buchanan has only 3 meetings left to undo his legacy of futility. That he made noises about claiming for his own things like the Canyon Zone effort last night only helps to highlight this poor fellow's misery.

Then we will be launched into yet another discussion about an ordnance that will prohibit people from walking their dogs on the City's baseball fields. Something that is considered responsible for the irregular grass growth on our diamonds. Hopefully this ordinance will be adjusted to include other creatures as well. Ferrets, which are becoming increasingly popular as pets in this area, should also be listed. And, if the drought doesn't abate over the next couple of years, camels as well.

Item #3 has to do with appointing a couple of individuals to the Oversight Board required by AB-1X 26, or the Redevelopment Agency Dissolution Bill. These two folks, among others, will be charged with watching over the CRA's financial body and making sure we get as much of it as we need. My guess is Josh Moran will be one of those so appointed. Hopefully he won't see this as an opportunity for personal upstate political benefit.

And finally, Item #4 deals with the City of Sierra Madre's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR. This is essentially our FY 2010-2011 annual financial report, and you should prepare yourself for the very real possibility of a PowerPoint presentation. The highlight of it all is that the City is bleeding cash, which, despite all the disingenuous ballyhoo about public safety costs such as the Paramedics, is the real reason why The Mayor is all puffed up and blowing hard about passing the UUT increase. Net assets decreased $1,322,944, business activity is down $394,968, the Water Fund decreased by $258,109, and the Sewer Fund decreased $181,096. The "Total Internal Services Fund" decreasing by close to $2 million big ones.

And since ours is now a City that never hesitates to ask the taxpayers to make up the difference when things go south for them, explains Measures 12-1 and 12-2.

The truth, as always, comes out in the details.

Monday, February 27, 2012

How The City Will Ask You For More Tax Money

"The problem in the public sector is that government is never allowed to fail. There never is a day of reckoning no matter how poorly the government provides its so-called services." - Steven Greenhut

This evening you will be asked to take the Mayor of Sierra Madre's word that the City needs to raise our Utility User Tax rate to 12%, which would then become the highest in the State of California. And the 2012 State of the City Address by the Mayor will be a reprise of his similar performance at the Woman's Club 6 weeks or so back. Which I guess was a kind of warm up performance. Here is my account of John Buchanan's initial UUT rate increase sales pitch at that earlier event.

I'm not exactly sure what the City of Sierra Madre's employees in the Paramedics think about it, but according to Mayor John Buchanan unless the voters here reconfirm the Utility Users Tax increases of 2008, they will soon all be out of a job. Something that might be causing some nervousness in our emergency medical corps. Especially when you consider that the voters here are also being asked to increase their UUT exposure to 12% by 2013, which means approving a rate that would be by far the highest in California. A dubious achievement befitting a Mayor whose only solution to this city's problems over the years has been to raise rates, fees and taxes.

Of course, this is big news for anyone living in this town. But what better a setting to kick off so cynical a hostage taking strategy than in a room filled mostly with seniors, the very people who would be most at risk should Paramedic services go away. Which is, of course, where Mayor John Buchanan set out to scare the bejeezus out of a lot of this City's vulnerable older citizens.

The venue for the deed was the Sierra Madre Woman's Club, where a full house got to witness the Mayor in action. As affable and engaging as any politician asking people to vote themselves a stiff tax hike can be, John came equipped with charts, friendly City Staff, a $9 lunch offer and a very scary message. That being unless you vote to renew the Utility user Tax, in the process giving your personal approval for a UUT hike to 12% by 2013, the Paramedic Service will go away. A service many in that room would be dependent upon during a medical emergency.

Like all well-delivered demagoguery, Mayor Buchanan made his threatening little speech with a smile on his face. And what he had to say was well-received by those in attendance.

There was a chart shown during the Woman's Club presentation that was quite revealing. It detailed the portion of the General Fund budget that the Mayor referred to as "protective services." What he was talking about here is the 53% of the budget that sustains the Sierra Madre Police Department. The inference being that this 53% of the budget is sacrosanct, and there is no way that it can be touched. Nor would this Mayor ever consider doing so. And should the vote to renew and raise the Utility User Tax fail, he would instead be forced to get rid of the Paramedics and leave the SMPD (or most any other portion of the budget) untouched.

Whether he would actually do such a thing is extremely doubtful, and Buchanan's personal role in any such action is a moot consideration since he will be long out of office by then. But you need to remember that John was delivering a threat here designed to frighten a lot of seniors into voting themselves a tax hike. No need to let reality get in the way of work as important as that.

The Tattler predicted this unkind strategy back on December 14 of last year as part of our wrap up to that week's City Council meeting. The debate that evening had been over how exactly to word the ballot questions for our upcoming April 10 UUT vote. Mayor Buchanan seemed adamant that the advisory ballot question include a specific reference to Paramedic Services. Something that would be deliberately deceptive since the UUT is actually a General Fund tax, and in no way specifically tied to Paramedic Services alone. UUT money can actually be spent on anything from office supplies to a bottle of vodka and a room at the Pasadena Hilton should those in charge feel so moved.

Here is what we posted on December 14:

The deceptiveness of the proposed language for the UUT Advisory Measure came up for considerable discussion. The way this is written gives the appearance of being a matter of raising taxes to help pay for emergency services such as paramedics alone. Which, of course, it is not. This will be spun by Buchanan and his ilk to read that if you vote against raising UUT rates to 12%, you will be responsible for Paramedic services being cut back or even abolished. Something that would put innocent lives in danger. All nonsense, of course. There are plenty of things that could be cut before the Paramedic budget. This is not out of line with this kinds of demagoguery employed by the Mayor during his rate and tax raising campaigns in the past.

And that is a lot of what will be trotted out at the Mayor's State of the City Address this evening.

Corporate sponsors for the Mayor's address include Athens Services, Southern California Edison, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore and the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District. All of whom do business with the City.

Light refreshments will be served. No fat added.

Bonus Coverage

The first comment of the day nailed it.

"A 12% UUT to keep one ambulance on the road? That doesn't add up."


Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Matheson Return: Did the City Make the Right Call?

Back on February 4th we posted an article entitled "Has Sierra Madre Prepared for the Return of Bob Matheson?" It turns out that the answer to that question is yes, it did prepare something. At least for itself. However, given the fact that Bob Matheson had been arrested and imprisoned in Canada for possession of a laptop containing 2,820 pictures of naked young boys, along with 285 videos of boys having sex with adult men, the City's conclusions might not be as restrictive or punitive as many in this community would expect.

Apparently what the City of Sierra Madre did was build for itself the case that it had to do nothing. And that Bob Matheson could return to his home and resume life here in whatever way he might wish. A conclusion which, given the characteristic passivity of this City's government in the face of challenges of this magnitude, is not as surprising as it should have been.

The Sierra Madre Weekly reported it this way:

The Police Department has confirmed at this time Mr. Matheson is under no obligation to register as a sex offender under California law.

The Sierra Madre Patch had heard a similar rhythm coming from the Sierra Madre Police Department:

Matheson voluntarily came to the to the police station and met with interim Police Chief Larry Giannone. Giannone said, "Mr. Matheson voluntarily came to the police station to advise us that he was back at his residence and simply stated, "There are two sides to every story." The Police Department has confirmed at this time Mr. Matheson is under no obligation to register as a sex offender based on California law.

A similar interpretation was also offered in the Sierra Madre Though their reporting was pretty much limited to posting the SMPD's press release.

But is this actually true? Is the City's press release a statement that should be accepted at face value? Given the City's past questionable interpretations of the law it might not be a bad idea to at least question the wisdom of their decision. You never know what answers you might come up with.

In today's Pasadena Star News questions are asked. The article is entitled "Sierra Madre police: Man convicted of child porn charges in Canada won't be registered as sex offender" (click here). Here is what they have to say:

Sierra Madre Interim Police Chief Larry Giannone said the Los Angeles District Attorney's office told his department that California's sex-registration requirement doesn't apply to Matheson because his conviction occurred outside the United States.

But a former Orange County district attorney who specialized in sex crimes has questioned that interpretation of the law. Matheson was arrested in October after being questioned by authorities at a Canadian airport. According to prosecutors, Matheson gave vague answers to questions about his travel plans.

Matheson, a prominent Sierra Madre resident who was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and assisted with former Mayor Joe Mosca's 2010 campaign, could not be reached for comment.

This does raise some disturbing issues. What if the City's interpretation of the law in this case is faulty? The PSN did attempt to discuss this with the Los Angeles District Attorney's office, but they declined to take the call. And then there is this troubling matter. What if Matheson, because of his social prominence and relationships within Sierra Madre's elite circles, is getting the benefit of the doubt here? What if it was someone of lesser social and political stature who was in Matheson's position? Would the City's reception have been as non-judgemental?

Michael Fell, a former Orange County deputy district attorney who specialized in sex crimes, said he didn't believe the California Penal Code makes an exception for convictions outside of the country.

He pointed to Senate Bill 622, which was signed into law in September and requires the State Department of Justice to review out-of-state offenders' criminal record to determine if they should be registered as a sex offender.

The bill expanded the list of those required to register as a sex offender to anyone convicted of such a crime "in any other court, including any state, federal or military court."

Fell said has he understands it, sex-crime convictions in another state or country would require sex-offender registration as long as the law in the other state or country is substantially similar to California law.

"As long as it has the elements," Fell said, "maybe it's not a gray area."

So is Canadian law, which as a Commonwealth country is closely tied to the laws of Great Britain (he was prosecuted there by a Crown Attorney), so inferior to the laws of California in this matter that Matheson needed to be shielded from its effects here in Sierra Madre?

If someone were to show that the City made a wrong call here, and that by failing to register Matheson as a sex offender illegally endangered the safety and welfare of some of our most vulnerable residents, Sierra Madre could be at some considerable legal risk.

So Here's the Smoking Gun

Terry Miller, who runs the Beacon Media family of papers (which includes the Sierra Madre Weekly) and has done some extremely valuable reporting on the Matheson affair, wrote in yesterday with the following:

I thought you would like to see what I just received from ICE:

"In response to your inquiry regarding the status of ICE Homeland Security Investigations' (HSI) probe involving Sierra Madre resident Robert Matheson, there is no new information I can provide about the case. HSI agents executed a warrant at Mr. Matheson's Sierra Madre residence late last year seeking evidence related to this investigation. The case remains pending at this time. The ultimate determination about whether federal charges will be brought in a case is made by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Also, I understand the Sierra Madre Police Department has issued a news release regarding whether Mr. Matheson will be required to register as a sex offender in the United States following his conviction in Canada. To be clear, HSI is not involved in that process. Here is a link to a document on the Department of Justice website outlining the registration guidelines for sex offenders. On page 16, there is specific information regarding the implications of foreign convictions.

Here is what is found on page 16 of the Justice Department guidelines (click here). It is devastating to the City's claims regarding Matheson's status as a sex offender.

Section 111(5)(B) of SORNA instructs that registration need not be required on the basis of a foreign conviction if the conviction "was not obtained with sufficient safeguards for fundamental fairness and due process for the accused under guidelines or regulations established by the Attorney General." The following standards are adopted pursuant to section 111(5)(B):

Sex offense convictions under the laws of Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand are deemed to have been obtained with sufficient safeguards for fundamental fairness and due process, and registration must be required for such convictions on the same footing as domestic convictions.

Obviously Terry's contact at ICE feels that the City of Sierra Madre screwed up badly by not registering Matheson as a sex offender. And the evidence provided by ICE seems irrefutable.

So here is the final question of the day. Did the City's failure to do the right thing here stem from rank incompetence, or has Matheson been been given a pass due to his membership in the City's social and political elite?

Either way, the City has failed us badly once again. ......... Photo credit: Bill Coburn

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bob Matheson Is Back In Town

Congrats to Terry Miller and his Sierra Madre Weekly for breaking this story. You can check out his report by clicking here.

Apparently the Feds have yet to figure out what they want to do about their investigation. And of course because it is an ongoing investigation there is nothing that they will say. That they did not search the Matheson manse until a full 2 months after they were notified by Canadian authorities might have had something to do with Matheson's insouciance today.

As we have reported here before, and according to the Crown Prosecutor in Halifax, Matheson was only given a minimum sentence there because no corroborating evidence was supplied by any American agencies. Apparently the Feds had more important things to do for a couple of months

And then there is this:

Matheson voluntarily came to the police station and met with Interim Police Chief Larry Giannone. Giannone said "Mr. Matheson voluntarily came to the police station to advise us that he was back at his residence and simple stated; "There are two sides to every story." The Police Department has confirmed at this time Mr. Matheson is under no obligation to register as a sex offender based on California law.

Like I have said before, we're all pretty much on our own in this town.

On Receiving the Police Officers Association Endorsement

"'Every high-profile crime that takes place should result in the association's uproar at the governing body for not having enough officers on the street, which could have avoided the incident.' Read: Exploit suffering, fear and anger." - Syndicated columnist Logan Jenkins writing on Police Officers Association tactics

Back when Colin Braudrick was chasing my support for his City Council run, one of the topics he discussed with me was the possibility of saving money in Sierra Madre. A burning issue in these times of fiscal ineptitude at City Hall. And when you are talking about saving money in this City, the Sierra Madre Police Department comes up. At a whopping 53% of our General Fund budget, the SMPD absorbs a whole lot of tax money here.

Now I have been critical of the Police Department here on occasion. In my opinion it has become far too large for a town of this size, and not very good at what it does. My favorite example of this being the $7,000 hit I took when my home was robbed. Our dealings with the SMPD were frustrating and unproductive. We couldn't even get them to return our phone calls, and obtaining the Police report necessary for filing with our insurance company took three separate visits to the Police Station. Much of it we ended up writing ourselves.

When Colin Braudrick and I spoke about this topic, he had what I thought was a promising idea. Reduce the financial hit the City was taking on the SMPD by making much of it a part time force. Kind of along the lines of the Paramedics. This would mean less paid hours and therefore a savings to our cash strapped town. It would also save the City a ransom in medical and retirement costs.

So it was with my usual bemusement at the antics of politicians that I read the following on the Colin Braudrick for City Council Facebook page (click here):

It was announced last night that I received the endorsement of the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association. As a police officer and community member this is a very meaningful endorsement.

In a real world sense this is actually not too surprising. Colin has accepted the support of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, and pitching in with employee unions such as the SMPOA is a part of the deal. Employee unions are for them a very dependable source for both political muscle and campaign cash. It is how things work around here. Backs are scratched.

But what needs to be pointed out is that the Police Officers Association, which the SMPOA is affiliated with, is not the Boy Scouts. This is a very tough labor organization, one that is known for its ruthless tactics in getting what its membership wants. Which, like most employee organizations of this type, is more money and better benefits. A seemingly never ending process here in Sierra Madre.

It also needs to be pointed out that John Harabedian has received the SMPOA's endorsement as well. And should both John and Colin be elected they will be sitting across the table from the Police Officers Association in negotiations. But whose interests will they put first? The taxpayers, or the POA? And what exactly has to be promised in order to get a POA endorsement? A bit too cozy an arrangement for my tastes.

I thought I would reprint an article I wrote a couple years back that discusses the SMPOA. Well, actually two articles, which were later combined. The following appeared on The Tattler back in February, 2010.

Larry Wilson's Column On the Tactics of the Police Officers Association (POA)

On February 2nd Larry Wilson published a column in the Pasadena Star News called "We're all the victims when police union lawyers bite." And it is a pretty good analysis of how Lackie, Dammeier & McGill get things done for the many POAs they represent, including the one our Police Officers call their own.

Now much of what Larry cites in this article from Lackie, Dammeier & McGill has been discussed in other places as well, including here. The tactics employed by these folks are ruthless, yet have been effective for those they represent. But what impressed me about this particular column from the sometime maligned Mr. Wilson is his description of how exactly this negotiating dynamic works. In my opinion he pretty much nails it.

For 20 years, smart and greedy lawyers have shown police unions how to pressure dumb and gullible politicians into giving officers too much in both salaries and benefits. Not too much in a perfect world - just too much in the one we live in. We know what the lawyers have advised officers' associations to do - guilt trip the electeds, give money to their campaigns, use crime as a wedge issue in order to scare the public, use work slowdowns and the blue flu to get what you want.

Some pretty good screed there. In this spirit, here is what I wrote about the tactics of the Police Officers Association back in April of 2009. Please keep in mind what Larry describes above as you read the following. Because as Sierra Madre goes into negotiations with our police officers and their union on a new MOU, we'll need to keep this in our considerations.

How the Police Officers Association (POA) Got Business Done In Sierra Madre

In what was probably one of the most extreme cases of "Little Miss Sunshine" syndrome I have ever read, the Mountain Views "Observer" on 12/21/07 ran the following giddy headline:

Sierra Madre And Police Reach 'Historic Agreement' - "It ends years of discord between the city and POA" - Mayor Joffe

Discord that resumed a few short months later after the doubling of our Utility Users Tax (UUT) to pay for all this historic agreement stuff. In what appeared to be an extraordinary act of ingratitude, various Police Officers Association lawsuits were initiated against the City of Sierra Madre. Apparently this short love match was only a one-sided affair, with the caddish Police Officers Association quickly leaving Mayor Joffe at the altar. Oh, and the taxpayers of Sierra Madre holding the very large wedding bill these two parties left behind.

The MVO article continued with this little bit of unmedicated delirium:

"Everyone clapped, cheered and shook hands as the City Council approved during a special meeting Tuesday night, the first police pay raise in years. The increase is subject, however, to Sierra Madre voters approving an increased Utility Users Tax on April 8, 2008."

Of course, not everyone was quite that chipper. Many who read the agreement worked out between Mayor Joffe and the SMPOA realized that this, along with a doubled UUT rate, was going to be a large new financial burden on the City's taxpayers. And there were some who took this to actually be a serious defeat for the City of Sierra Madre, with the joy offensive by the paper merely an attempt to put a pretty face on it all. Something that could very well have hurt the re-election chances of MVO darlings Enid Joffe and John Buchanan if not properly spun.

So who is this Police Officers Association that so completely took City Hall to the cleaners? Turns out that its leadership isn't quite as local as you might think. Here's a passage from a March 21, 2009 article in the Union Tribune dealing with an acrimonious Police labor dispute in Escondido:

The association should be like a quiet giant in the position of, "Do as I ask and don't p___ me off," the law firm advises ... As the fight between the City and the Escondido Police Officers Association unfolds, the association appears to be taking some of its cues from the hardball battle plan devised by Lackie, Dammeier & McGill of Upland, which is representing the association in negotiations ... The law firm was founded by a former deputy sheriff, Michael Lackie, and a former police officer, Dieter Dammeier, and represents more than 120 public safety unions on California.

Among the 120 public safety unions represented by these gentlemen is the Sierra Madre Police Officers Association. And if you recognized the names of Lackie and Dammeier you get extra points because those are the guys that won their clients their stunning victory at the expense of the taxpayers of Sierra Madre.

How they did it really shouldn't be all that big a secret to anyone. Because the team of Lackie, Dammeier & McGill have put together quite a menu of tactics for their charges to use. In a March 23, 2009 piece called "Caring for Union Cops, not their bullying tactics" (click here), syndicated columnist Logan Jenkins highlighted a few of them for us. These recommended tactics were all listed on the Lackie, Dammeier, McGill website at that time.

* Storm City Council: No meeting should take place without association members publicly chastising council members for their lack of concern for public safety.
* Billboards: Nothing seems to get more attention than a billboard entering the city limits which reads that crime is up and the City could care less about your safety. The message being City Councils love crime and hate safety.
* Job Fair: Encourage cops to sign up at job fairs, sending an alarming, but false, signal of imminent flight from the department, leaving virtually no one to protect the public from gangs, parolees and sex offenders.
* Work Slowdown: Drive the speed limit, make investigations as time-consuming as possible, while "asking for back-up on most calls." In other words, perform the job in malingering slo-mo, this inflating the need for more officers and better pay and benefits.
* Focus on the individual: Avoid spreading your energy. Focus on a city manager, council person, mayor or police chief and keep pressure on until that person assures you of his loyalty and then move on to the next victim. Victim? You heard right.
* Press Conferences: Every high-profile crime that takes place should result in the association's uproar at the governing body for not having enough officers on the street, which, could have avoided the incident. Read: Exploit suffering, fear and anger.
*In its summation Lackie, Dammeier & McGill acknowledges that cops often come up with their own variations on the theme of beating public officials into submission. "Just keep in mind, the idea is to annoy your opponents into giving in to your position and almost equally as important, to let them know that next time they should agree with you much sooner."

In that same issue of the Mountain Views "Observer" cited earlier, then Mayor Enid Joffe, in her "Coffee With Joffe" column (entitled "Peace In Our Time?"), had this to say:

The entire MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) is conditioned on the passage of the proposed Utility User Tax (UUT) ballot initiative approved by the City Council on December 18th. Without approval of the Measure, the POA agreement is null and void, and we will go back to our previous adversarial positions.

I can only assume that by "adversarial positions" the Mayor was referring to a possible return by the POA to the kinds of hardball tactics described on the Lackie, Dammeier & McGill website. The ones that drove City Hall to cry uncle and double our Utility User Taxes.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sierra Madre Tattler Now Linked on the Pasadena Star News Webpage

Our reach has just grown by a whole lot. Frank Girardot and our friends over at the Pasadena Star News are now giving the Sierra Madre Tattler some tremendous exposure on their website. Which, as vast as we like to say our readership is, comes nowhere close to the amount of traffic they draw.

In an illustrated boxed inset, here is how the PSN breaks the news about Sierra Madre's #1 news blog to their readership: "Read all about Sierra Madre from local blogger John Crawford at the Sierra Madre Tattler." Nice, simple, and very visual. Good placement as they say in marketing.

I'm pretty happy about it. If you go to their site (click here) scroll down about midpage on the left hand side and check it out. The feature is called "Community Blogs" and right now we are basically it. Though I do hope others will be featured in time. In my opinion every town needs a Tattler. Or at least an occasional aside.

This is part of a new concept the Pasadena Star News has initiated, one designed to support news reporting wherever it occurs. As much as daily papers cover in the vast array of material that comprises all facets of the news, it is local blogs that truly dig into the goings on in the local affairs and government of their towns. And with fewer local weekly papers around to cover the kinds of hard news that most City Halls never enjoyed very much anyway, more of a focus for this kind of reporting now falls upon blogs like ours. A challenge we more than enjoy answering (almost) each and every day.

Once in a while the world changes a little, and sometimes even for the better. Though I'm sure there are some who will have a problem with it.

Pasadena Star News - Despite mixed-use development's mixed record, local cities express enthusiasm for such projects

Here's a topic we have talked about a lot here over the last 4 years. How is it that after the failure of mixed use development to live up to its hype throughout the San Gabriel Valley, city planners and those who shovel tax money to them continue to push for the kinds of mixed use development Sierra Madre voters wisely rejected in 2007 with the approval of Measure V.

Star News staff writer J.D. Velasco dug into just this topic and wrote an article that pretty much spells out the differences between what was sprung upon certain cities in this area, and the resulting failures. The kinds of failures that Measure V spared Sierra Madre.

Here are some examples of the kinds of mixed-use failure Velasco found:

Glendora - Late last month, the Glendora City Council stripped away a mixed-use requirement for a large plot of land near its future Gold Line station. Instead of a mixture of apartments and shops, the developer is nopw planning to build 53 condominiums, but no retail on the site.

San Dimas - San Dimas has also had limited success with mixed-use development. The city's Grove Station project, also located along the Gold Line, was intended as an extension of downtown, and includes special live-work units ... But Grove Station has faced a series of financial difficulties over the years, culminating in its bankruptcy.

El Monte - El Monte's attempt at bringing mixed-use to town has run into its own problems. Seven years ago, the city was abuzz with talk of the Transit Village - a collection of homes, shops and restaurants clustered around the El Monte bus station. That project ran into trouble after the developers were accused of fraud and embezzlement, even though neither was ever charged.

Whittier - Whittier, too, has found mixed-use projects tough to get off the ground, despite having a well-developed downtown ... In 2007, the city demolished an old Alpha Beta grocery store in the Uptown area, hoping to repurpose the land as a mixture of homes, shops and a library. Five years later, that property is still vacant.

To bring this all back home, why would our City Council and its cat's paw the Green Committee be working so hard to bring these kinds of projects to Sierra Madre? Particularly when, by leaving well enough alone, this town has been spared the misery so many other cities have suffered?

Maybe they just aren't all that capable of learning from the failures of others.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Green Committee's "Environmental Accords" and High Density Development

I really don't have a whole lot of problems with much of what the Green Committee is concerned about. There is a lot to be said for clean water, trees, fresh air, open spaces and wild animals roaming free in a peaceable habitat. We have all been trying to get back to the Garden of Eden for quite some time now, and if the Green Committee can put the apple back on its tree, then we should all be very pleased with them. This old world would be a finer place.

But unfortunately they don't stop there. Invariably, like anything that has come out of City Hall over the last decade or so, all of that peace and love somehow gets turned into a rationale for development. This is really unfortunate, and it does make me want to question their sincerity. Because I don't care how you phrase it, in the end five story 1,100 square foot condominiums with storefronts as far as the eye can see are not going to save the world from anything. All they are going to do is make certain California industries a lot of money. Which, sadly enough, is probably the point. In the end it is always about money.

In my mind Sierra Madre is already probably the greenest town around here. The low density, modestly sized and nicely dispersed homes, the beautiful foothill views, and lush greenery everywhere have made this the highly desireable and widely envied place to live that it is. But apparently for the Green Committee, along with its Environmental Accords, that is all somehow besides the point.

Here is what they see as being a better world:

Urban Design: Adopt urban planning principles and practices that promote appropriate density and land use for walkable, bikeable, and disabled-accessible neighborhoods; and transportation is coordinated with land use to provide access to open space for recreation and ecological restoration by 2013.

All worthy goals I suppose. Of course, much of it depends on what your definition of appropriate density is. And as far as I can tell we're pretty much there already. Certainly nobody can argue that Sierra Madre is not bikeable, we're literally filled with people peddling all around our streets. Myself included. I have also seen people walking from time to time. And we certainly do have our open spaces. Just look up and east. We have an entire U.S. National Forest filled with just that. Something many will notice through their windows as they move from their kitchens to a couch in front of the TV.

But that is not what the Green Committee's Environmental Accords are all about. Apparently what we are hearing from them now is one more greenwashed up sales pitch for some rather radical development. Apparently the planet saving properties of condos is where they are at these days, coupled with the hope that we can somehow build our way out of global warming.

Adopt urban planning principles and practices that advance higher density, mixed use, walkable, bikeable, and disabled-accessible neighborhoods, which coordinate land use and transportation with open space systems for recreation and economic restoration.

This goal is dependent on the General Plan Update process. The City would need to adopt principals and practices within their Planning efforts towards these goals.

Staff believes this to be a pivotal consideration in the General Plan Update. It is also subject to AB32 and SB 375 considerations.

So there you have it. It isn't about chirping birds, or the trees and the flowers, or even recycling soda cans. Which is what most people's concept of Green is all about. Rather the Environmental Accords are about bringing dense urban development to Sierra Madre.

Besides, why would the Green Committee name something like this after a Honda? Seems counterintuitive to me.

In case you are not completely up to snuff with Sacramento's SB 375, the so-called "Anti-Sprawl" legislation, here it is in a nutshell. When Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor, he decided that it was a task worthy of his mighty self to save the world from the bad habits of the little people. All of whom insisted on living in their own single family homes and driving personal cars. In Arnold's mind these were the bad things that caused greenhouse gases, which led to both global warming and the eventual end of the world. Or at least humanity's portion of that world. Things would still go on without us, of course.

And where the problem really came in was with the solution. The idea was that if people could be coerced into moving out of their private homes and into central urban districts, then they wouldn't have to drive their cars so far. Suburban sprawl was the identified enemy here, and getting people out of their cars and back living in urban core public transportation dependent neighborhoods would reduce greenhouse emissions and saving the world.

This became known in certain of the snarkier circles as stack and pack development. The claim being that if you put people into dense urban neighborhoods near public transportation, then they would gladly give up their cars for the joy of commuting to work in buses and on trollys. You know, like the Gold Line.

Arnold, coming as he does from a portion of the world that at one time eagerly embraced such protean social engineering schemes, loved the idea of centrally planning a drastic rearrangement of how millions of people in California live. And he flew on polluting private jets all over the world to give speeches to similarly minded people about what he had done. In certain elite circles Arnold became a great hero.

Here in Sierra Madre Arnold's dream would be accomplished through redeveloping the downtown area by building large swathes of mixed use store front and condo properties. All with the idea of reengineering your life in an transportation village style environment, forcing people out of their greenhouse producing private homes and cars and onto shuttles that would deposit them at the local transportation hubs. Which are almost always down by the train tracks.

But you and I know this is really a bunch of nonsense, right? All of Arnold's science fiction aside, in the end this is about forcing development into places that really don't want it. The last time this was attempted here was around 2006. It was called the Downtown Specific Plan, and people were so upset they passed something called Measure V stop it.

Look at it this way, if this kind of development is green, then Rancho Cucamonga, which completely embraced this style of planning a few years back, would be the New Eden. But it is not. Rather it is just sprawling acre upon acre of half unsold condos and adjacent empty office space. No bikes, no walkability, just "for sale" signs as far as the eye can see.

And there is nothing all that green about any of it. Putting into practice these so-called Environmental Accords would just saddle us with the same flawed planning designs that sit half-empty throughout the San Gabriel Valley. Foreclosure farms, as one wag put it. And in the process severely damaging what makes Sierra Madre the wonderful place it is today.

If you care to read the Green Committee's Environmental Accords, you can find the documents on MaryAnn MacGillivray's website. Click here to access it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The City's UUT Sales Pitch That Came With Your Water Bill

I'm not certain that it is entirely appropriate for a sales pitch encouraging people to cast a 'yes' vote on the Utility User Tax (UUT) questions to be found on April's ballot should have been stuffed into an envelope along with your City water bill. At least not without also including the opinions of those who do not necessarily concur with the notion that we need to pay the City a higher tax rate for services such as water, cell phone usage, sewage and trash removal.

The City has an obligation to be non-partisan even when it is their own ox that is being gored. After all, we did pay for the postage and print costs, along with the salaries of those who put this mailing together, so shouldn't the opinions of everyone else be included as well? To me this smacks of a pretty significant conflict of interest.

The document that you likely found in the same envelope with your City of Sierra Madre water bill is entitled Fact Sheet - February 2012 - Utility Users Tax - Measure "12-1" and Measure "12-2." It offers a kind of primer on what exactly a User Utility Tax is, and also includes a history of how it came to be that you are currently paying a 10% UUT rate. All of which might seem OK, that is if you were living in a universe that only contained Sierra Madre. But I am getting a little ahead of myself here.

Let's first start with a couple of the seeming inaccuracies that are found in this "UUT Fact Sheet." Here is the first one:

What does the proposed Measure 12-1 provide? If approved by the voters, Measure 12-1 will provide for a decreased maximum voter approved UUT rate of 10% until July 1, 2013. On July 1, 2013, the maximum UUT rate is 12%, a rate that will continue until June 30, 2018.

Now a cursory reading of this statement might lead some to conclude that what they are voting for here is a "decreased maximum voter approved UUT rate of 10%." In other words, they might actually believe they are voting themselves a tax rate cut. But that is hardly the case since what they are actually paying now is already set at 10%. So in reality this rate will remain exactly the same until it rises next year to 12%. Which is obviously an increase. The weasel words here are "voter approved." I don't believe all that many folks will pick up on that as they quickly scan through this thing.

Here is another dodge that can be found in this document:

How does the Utility User Tax support City services? The UUT is a General Fund revenue source which funds City services such as Police, Fire and Paramedic public safety services.

Pubic safety services are very sympathetic to people in most cities, and Sierra Madre is no exception. And that is why "Police, Fire and Paramedic public safety services" are mentioned in the statement above. It is to encourage you to vote yes on Measures 12-1 and 12-2, and continue paying a substantial UUT rate. But the fact is the money raised through the UUT can be spent on any General Fund city expense. Dog catching, for instance. Or office supplies. By waving the flag of public safety the City is not being completely upfront with you. This is money that can be spent on anything, and is in no legal sense exclusively tied to public safety.

But there is also another matter that I feel is an important consideration, something that has been completely lacking in any city generated communication on these Measures. Including the somewhat nuanced document that was sent to you with your water bill.

At 10% Sierra Madre is one of a small handful of cities in the State of California with a UUT rate that high. And if you factor in the number of categories covered by our UUT, which are more than any other city at that rate, we are one of only two cities paying such, and on so many different things.

And should we go to 12% next year through voter approval of Measure 12-1 and 12-2, Sierra Madre's UUT rate will be the absolute highest utility taxes anywhere.

I'd like to encourage you to click here and view the California City Tax "Utility User Tax Facts" website. If you scroll down to page #2 of this site you will see the chart that I attempted to reproduce at the beginning of this article. (Click on it and it will enlarge for easier viewing.) It is called California UUT Rates.

And if you look to the far right of this chart you will notice that there are only 2 cities in the 10% to 11% range. So what about any other cities with a 12% UUT rate? There are none. A 12% UUT rate is literally off the charts.

We happen to live in a City where the only solution to financial shortfalls ever considered is asking for more money. This can be for such things as taxes, water rates, fees, licenses, assessments and whatever else is available. And with the UUT we can see that the City of Sierra Madre has gotten itself to the point where that rate will now burst through into previously uncharted territory if affirmed and then engaged by the City Council. In the process becoming the very highest to be found anywhere in California.

That is, of course, if you vote for it. You might want to start thinking that one over first. There are other ways to deal with our financial problems. Though apparently that information will not be sent out with your water bill.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Did You Get A Call From Competitive Edge Research and Communication Last Night?

If you did then you are not alone. I and many others were polled by Competitive Edge as well. There were a lot of phone calls and emails about it last night, with most commenting on the depth of knowledge in the questions being asked. This was all being done by people who knew an awful lot about Sierra Madre politics. Which is not a topic many people know about, including quite a few of those living here.

Every once in a while Sierra Madre gets blanketed by polling calls, usually around the time of an election or a large development project. And whatever it is that the people who engaged the polling company get out of it, well, we usually don't ever really find that out. At least nothing for certain. Nor do we ever discover who those people even are, though there are usually quite a few theories.

I received a number of emails about last night's polling visitations, but none better than this one:

You won't believe who just called me, ______, and ______ ... Competitive Edge Research. They asked me what I thought was the most pressing issue in Sierra Madre today. Then he started asking me questions about the Kensington Project that sounded like they were written right after Thursday night's Planning Commission. Would you vote for or against it? How did you vote on Measure V? Would you vote for it if you were told that it complies with Measure V regulations, 2 stories and 30 feet high? Is the fact that it is right across the street from the fire station beneficial? Does the fact that Sierra Madre has one ambulance hurt the citizens if the Kensington is built? Would you vote for this if the City solves its water problem? If Josh Moran were for this, would you be for it or against it... Nancy Walsh... MaryAnn MacGillivray? Then: Will you vote for Koerber or Broadrick? Will you vote for MacGillivray? Who else will you vote for?

Here's another kicker: He started to ask me about Sierra Madre attorney John Hutt. I told him that John Hutt is an attorney, practices in Sierra Madre, but is not the city attorney, so don't even ask the question.

If I told you that I am pretty certain who the source of this poll is, would you believe me? Certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence points towards my suspected candidate. Here is how I figure it. If you click here, you will be taken to the Competitive Edge Research & Communication site. It is the usual commercial looking site you'd find for a company like this, and they do let you know how much they'd love to help you out with all of your pressing polling needs.

When you go to that site you will notice that they are not just San Diego based, but that most of their clients are as well. The City of San Diego, KPBS, Downtown San Diego, Sycuan Casino, SANDAG (SCAG for San Diego), County of San Diego, San Diego Humane Society, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, San Diego State University, the list goes on.

So who is located around San Diego that would care deeply about knowing the attitudes of the people of Sierra Madre towards the Kensington? Probably the developers themselves, right? Especially now that they are down on record as wanting a public vote on the project in November.

Fountain Square Development West is run out of Poway, CA, about 20 miles to the Northeast of San Diego. It is also where Billy Shields, the main man in this effort, claimed as his home when he spoke before the Planning Commission last Thursday evening.

To me what makes this a pretty sure shot as far as identifying the origin of this poll are the questions pertaining to John Hutt. As distinguished a local thinker on development and General Plan issues as John may be, you would not ordinarily think of him as being the likely subject of so vigorous a polling effort as this one.

The reason why he'd be of such interest to Fountain Square would have to be the speech he delivered at that same Planning Commission meeting. And why would John Hutt be of interest to the Kensington developer? Because after the virtual horde of humanity that coursed to the speaker's podium to testify of their great love and support for the Kensington project, Hutt was the first, and as I recall only, speaker to voice any credible and reasoned out opposition to the project.

And not only did he speak against the Kensington, but he did so in an eloquent and highly informed way, one that appeared by my reckoning to have been well-received by at least some members of the Planning Commission.

Now I personally have my reservations about John Hutt's plan. The mixed-use development he appears to prefer for the Skilled Nursing Facility site is very similar to some of the discredited designs of the old Downtown Specific Plan. And I did see some real irony in Mr. Hutt bringing up something like that during a meeting where Measure V was such an important factor.

But that said, John Hutt's opinions and any possible support for them in town would certainly be of concern to Fountain West. If Hutt did have strong support for his ideas here, and should the polling data reflect that, it could be taken as an indication that a rival project may be taking shape.

As for the rest of the poll, knowing which candidates stand the best chance of winning in April, or the predominant attitude in town towards Measure V, or even the feelings people might have for our one brave little ambulance, all would be of interest to the developer of the Kensington as well. And these were certainly items that were talked about at last week's Planning Commission meeting.

Another point of irony. In the poll Nancy Walsh and Josh Moran are alluded to as being for the Kensington, with MaryAnn MacGillivray against it. I do know for a fact that MaryAnn is a strong supporter of the Kensington. I also suspect that if John Hutt's ideas on what to do with the SNF site were to gain traction in town, Josh Moran and Nancy Walsh would be the more likely parties to support it.

So that is my argument, and I am sticking to it until someone comes up with something better.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Can This Be the Reason Why the Matheson Investigation In Sierra Madre Was Blown?

When officials in Nova Scotia notified the American authorities about their capture of Sierra Madre resident Bob Matheson at an airport with a laptop packed full of child pornography, they did so by contacting two law enforcement agencies. The Los Angeles division of U.S. Homeland Security and the Los Angeles Police Department. Neither of which bothered to inform the Sierra Madre Police Department of the news. As revealed in interview published on the SM Patch with then Police Chief Marilyn Diaz, the SMPD found out about Matheson's arrest and conviction in Nova Scotia from an anonymous Canadian e-mail, sent and received two months after the fact.

The indifference of the American authorities to Sierra Madre's plight in this matter will have some real effects here next month when Matheson is released from prison in Canada and booted out of that country. At which time it is assumed that he will return back here. According to Canadian legal authorities, had the Sierra Madre home of Bob Matheson been immediately searched, and corroborating evidence been found there, his conviction in Canada would have come with a much longer sentence. It can logically be assumed that any evidence found here would have also lead to a U.S. conviction as well.

One of the most troubling aspects of this entire case was the delay of Federal authorities to take action here. In an article entitled "Matheson's House Had Been Under Federal Surveillance Recently," here is what we reported on December 21 of last year.

I just spoke with Craig Botterill, the Crown Attorney who prosecuted Matheson in Nova Scotia, Canada. He has provided some harrowing details of what was involved. But of most importance here is that the Department of Homeland Security in Los Angeles and the Los Angeles PD (for some reason) were informed of Matheson's arrest by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on October 20.

Repeated inquiries from Canadian authorities about a delay in the search of Matheson's residence here in Sierra Madre were made. The fear being that the place would be sanitized. It was only on December 5th that a move on that residence was planned. And it did not take place until last night. Why did they wait as long as they did? Certainly the officials notified by our friends from the north would be very aware of the possible consequences of their case against Matheson should they delay. The situation called for immediate action. This smacks of official negligence to me.

We never did hear about the results of the December 20th search of Matheson's house. The official reason from Homeland Security/ICE is that they never comment about on-going investigations. And when asked by the Pasadena Star News about why exactly it took two full months for the Feds to finally search Matheson's house, an ICE spokeswoman's reply was that there were just so many other investigations underway, and they had to prioritize. I guess it is nice to see where we stand in the Federal firmament.

My take is that by delaying this search until a full two months after Matheson's arrest in Halifax, the Feds allowed both Matheson's roommate and young traveling companion ample opportunity to clean up whatever evidence of his crimes was to be found here in Sierra Madre. An opinion that is also shared by Canadian authorities.

The division of U.S. Homeland Security assigned the Matheson case was ICE, or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And while the reason given for the 2 month delay in searching Matheson's home was a backlog of more important work (something that could very well result in Matheson returning to live here amongst us next month a free man), there might be others reasons as well. One of them being that ICE is just a godawful mess.

This from yesterdays's Los Angeles Times (click here):

After a meeting at work, ICE agent never came home - Ezequiel Garcia, a longtime immigration agent, had told his wife of problems at work. But when she called him at the office, everything seemed normal. An exchange with a supervisor grew heated, however, and he did the unthinkable. He turned his weapon on a fellow agent.

The shooting, which left a second-in-command of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles riddled with gunshot wounds, was the latest blow to an embattled office that has been plagued by scandals involving several of its top officials.

Authorities said Garcia, 45, who supervised a Document and Benefit Fraud Task force, shot Deputy Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kozak, 51, in his upper torso, legs and hands before being shot and killed. Kozak, a 30-year veteran agent who previously served as acting head of ICE's Los Angeles operations, remains hospitalized but is in stable condition, and is alert and talking, federal officials said at a news conference.

The L.A. Times article refers to other scandals at ICE as well. Here is how they discuss them:

The shooting follows a troubled few years for the agency's Los Angeles field office. A high-ranking official and his wife, an intelligence analyst, have been indicted and are on trial in federal court for defrauding the government. Another official, suspected of doctoring his college diploma, has been on leave for more than a year while a grand jury investigates the matter.

An Associated Press article ("Long Beach ICE shooting is latest mark against agency"), published in the Long Beach Telegram yesterday (click here), picks up on the theme that ICE is a dysfunctional agency in a state of chaos. Here are some examples:

* Frank Johnston, a former assistant special agent in charge in the Los Angeles area, was convicted in December of obstruction of justice and making false statements for lying about an informant helping with an organized crime and human smuggling investigation. Johnston and his wife, Taryn, are also facing charges that they schemed to have her paid for a job with ICE that she didn't actually work. Prosecutors have accused the couple of illegally obtaining $582,000 in salary and benefits over several years. Both have denied wrongdoing.

* Another federal agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration, accused ICE agents in 2004 of allowing more than a dozen murders to take place in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and endangering the lives of DEA agents and their families. The DEA said ICE used "a homicidal maniac" as an ICE informant even after he was implicated in the murder of an associate of the Juarez cartel in Mexico.

* An ICE deportation officer was accused in October of leading authorities on a high-speed desert chase in Arizona as he threw bundles of marijuana from his government truck.

* Other ICE agents have been investigated for drunken driving in government cars, lying to other investigators and misusing their position for personal gain. One was investigated for having an inappropriate relationship with the target of an ICE investigation. Another was investigated for using his government position to ask questions from Texas about his mother-in-law's eviction in New Mexico.

As you can see, ICE has quite a resume'. Anybody still certain that the two month delay in searching Matheson's house by this Federal so-called law enforcement agency was due to its difficult work load?

Like so many other things in Sierra Madre, the Matheson affair will be swept under the rug and nothing will ever come of any investigation that might or might not have been conducted.

Like I've said before, we're pretty much on our own here.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

City Council Election Questions Not Being Asked #1: Will Taxes Go Up After the April Elections?

"Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for." - Will Rogers

Sometimes in Sierra Madre politics you need to look for the questions that are not being asked. Just because a few topics are being widely discussed by at least some of the candidates (along with those who dutifully echo their talking points), does not necessarily mean that all of the real issues affecting our community are being talked about. As a matter of fact, if you want to know what is really going on you often need to look for those things that are not being discussed at all. Often the gaps are far more telling than what is generating the predominant noise.

There has been a healthy debate on questions related to development and its affect on the character of our community, but a lot of that has been driven by the ALF/Kensington debate and the obvious desire of the G3 Council and their allies to take away our rights to vote on downtown development. Not to say that this debate hasn't been a good thing, it is just that there are other issues of equal importance out there as well.

During the 8 or so weeks left to our current Sierra Madre City Council election cycle The Tattler is going to try to identify topics that are not being discussed, and then inconveniently ask annoying questions about them. Too often stealth operations (or "metro campaigns" as we most controversially termed them earlier this week) run under the radar operations that, while trumpeting ginned up "emo issues" of only passing importance, are also designed to deflect attention away from other things. Mostly because those are not very popular topics, while also being exactly what such candidates intend to do should they become elected.

So here is a question you are not likely to hear at the Kiwanis debate:

"The loss of Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) money to the state has helped blow a nearly $1 million dollar hole in Sierra Madre's budget. How do you intend to deal with this problem? Cut back city government expenses such as services and staffing, or raise taxes?"

Seems fairly cut and dried. And you can also understand why certain candidates would choose to avoid discussing it very much. Particularly those aligned with the John Buchanan/Josh Moran school of city government. Two gentlemen who have never once in their political lives seen a problem that they wouldn't raise our rates, fees, assessments and taxes to resolve.

Now this shouldn't be confused with the UUT questions that are on the ballot this April. Measures that are designed to push our Utility User Tax rates up to a State of California leading 12% by mid 2013. No matter how you might feel about paying the highest UUT rate in the state, you need to realize that this was put on the ballot long before all that CRA money was taken away by Sacramento. Not to mention out bill for the windstorm clean up. And even if the UUT rate does go to 12% it will have precious little effect on any of this.

In the spirit of full disclosure, and even though I am not a candidate (despite what you've read in certain quarters, The Tattler is not on the ballot this year), my opinion is this. If after our April elections the keys to this City are handed over to Mayor Josh Moran and Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Walsh, the solution they will opt for on the above question will be to raise everything. This is a very large fiscal problem, and without cuts the hit to taxpayers will be significant.

There has not a single rate, tax, assessment or whatever that has come across the desks of Moran and Walsh so far that they haven't voted to raise, so why should anything be different once they get to call all of the shots? Raising our tax obligations is apparently the only solution they understand.

It is my take that when casting your votes this April (or before if you are into the less soulful mail-in thing), you need to be thinking about taxes and what it is you that you should be paying. Because that is pretty much the dividing line between the two camps of candidates running in this election.

And quite honestly, if certain candidates intend to take more of our money after April, they really should have the common decency to tell us so. Perhaps if a candidate comes to your door, you'll ask the tax question for us?

Let us know what they say.